The Olivet Discourse has historically been viewed as prophetic teaching of paramount signifi cance, dealing, as it does, with the return of the Lord Jesus Christ, with the deliverance of the righteous and the judgment of the wicked. The importance of the discourse is intensified as world events clearly suggest we are closing in on the end of the age.
In the New Testament, the word “tribulation,” or “affliction,” as it is sometimes translated, comes from the Greek word thlipsis. Thlipsis conveys the idea of pressure, affliction, anguish, persecution, and trouble. Nobody wants tribulation, but everybody gets it. It’s one of the inevitable realities of life, and no one is exempt. Jesus taught His disciples that “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
However, if men and women recoil from the normal tribulations of life, even far less appealing is the prospect of participating in a terrible time period called the “Great Tribulation” (Matthew 24:21-22; Mark 13:19-20). This future period of time will be of such extreme difficulty that the Lord, in describing it, taught: “And except those days [of great tribulation] should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved” (Matthew 24:22).
In context, the expression “no flesh” is not referring to all men and women everywhere, as though all of humanity would perish if those days of great tribulation were not shortened. Rather, the term “all flesh” refers to a believing remnant from among humanity who will not submit to the authority of the Antichrist nor receive his mark. As a direct result, they will be severely persecuted, so much so that, if the Great Tribulation (which occurs within part of the second half of Daniel’s seven-year period known as the “seventieth week”) were not “cut short” by God, none of the elect would physically survive that period of time. Thankfully, the Lord Jesus taught, “but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened” (Matthew 24:22).
Regarding the natural tribulations of life, nineteenth-century preacher and poet Edwin Chapin noted, “The brightest crowns that are worn in heaven will be tried, and smelted, and polished and glorified through the furnace of tribulation.”
The pious and gifted Bible commentator Matthew Henry wrote, “Extraordinary afflictions are not always the punishment of extraordinary sins, but sometimes the trials of extraordinary graces – sanctified afflictions are spiritual promotions.”